Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Have just tried ... Macallan 12 years old

macallan 12 years oldIn the world's Top 3
Macallan is one of the biggest selling whiskies and most famous whisky brands in the world. It consistently sits in third place for worldwide sales, behind only Glenfiddich and Glenlivet. The Macallan distillery is located close to the village of Craigellachie in the heart of the Speyside region of Scotland. It sits within a large estate on a hill, overlooking the River Spey. It was founded in 1824 by Alexander Reid and was originally called Elchies distillery, after an area of land nearby. The famous Elchies House can be found on the packaging. The name was changed to Macallan in 1892 following a change of ownership. It is currently owned by the Edrington Group.

To learn more about the Macallan distillery, read our distillery visit notes from our trip to Speyside last year.

Attention to detail
The Macallan range of whisky is extensive, including limited editions and an exclusive range for the travel retail sector. It is this sector that has helped to grow Macallan's market share. Other main markets are the UK and north America, especially the USA. Macallan was originally launched in the early 1970s and was one of the first mass marketed single malts and has long been regarded as one of the most classic examples of ex-sherry cask maturation. Macallan take the quality of their casks seriously and they have owned a bodegas in Jerez in southern Spain since the late 1970s. They instruct the sherry producers to care for the wood, what type of sherry to put in each cask and the length of maturation time required. This rigorous attention to detail has helped to establish the quality and brand of Macallan. Rumour says that Macallan have a staggering £15 million tied up in sherry casks alone!

Our tasting notes
This 12 years old forms part of the core range and has been matured in ex-sherry casks. It is bottled at 40% ABV and should cost £30-35 from a wide range of stockists. The colour is golden amber and the nose is fragrant and sweet. There is plenty of dried fruit (think of raisin, sultana and orange peel) and caramel and these are backed up by some earthy spice (imagine cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger), toasted nuts (almonds especially) plus a hint of charred and slightly sulphuric wood smoke (this must be coming from the charred inside of the sherry casks). On the palate, this whisky is rich, full bodied and very soft and smooth. It is again sweet with the flavour profile led by the same abundance of dried fruits and caramel as shown on the nose. Other pleasant elements come through - honey, toffee, cereal grains, wood spice (cinnamon and nutmeg again) and a hint of cocoa powder. The combination is sublime. The finish begins sweetly (think of caramel and honey) but becomes drier, spicier (that ginger note again) and quite woody (especially slightly damp oak) towards the end.

What's the verdict?
The Macallan 12 years old is an elegant and delicious whisky. It may be a little sweet for some but is a very good example of a sherry cask matured whisky - it shows what can be achieved by Macallan's rigorous attention to detail in both the whisky production and the selection of the wood for the maturation casks. This also offers decent value for money at £30-35 a bottle.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Have just tried ... Lagavulin 30 years old

One of Islay's favourites
Lagavulin (pronounced lagga-voolin) is a distillery on the western Scottish island of Islay. The majority of distilleries on Islay produce rich, smoky and complex single malt whiskies and Lagavulin is renowned as giving some of the best examples of these. The distillery is located on the south eastern coast of the island. Lagavulin was founded in 1816 by John Johnston and currently has a production capacity of just under three million litres per year. They have unusual pear shaped stills and they believe that a combination of these stills, a slightly lower peating level in their malted barley and one of the longest spirit distillation times in Scotland, give Lagavulin its own unique character and quality.

A 'classic' malt
Lagavulin release a very limited core range of three whiskies - a 12 years old cask strength which is released once a year, the regular 16 years old and a 'Distiller's Edition' (a special release that is finished in specially selected Pedro Ximenez sherry casks). The 16 years old forms part of the 'Classic Malts' series. Diageo, the current owners, have chosen one distillery from within their portfolio to represent each Scottish production region and highlight whiskies that typify the style of each of these six regions. Lagavulin is the 'Classic Malt' representative for Islay. This 30 years old is a very limited edition that is released sporadically, when they have casks that are deemed to be of the suitable quality and age. As a result, bottles are very hard to come by (only 2340 in this release) and are very expensive at £750-850 each. This was last released a couple of years ago, at 52.6% ABV, and is the oldest official release from Lagavulin - we thank Colin Dunn from Diageo for supplying this sample for us to try.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this Lagavulin 30 years old is golden and the nose is expressive and unusual. It feels fresh and vibrant, especially when for its age. There is an initial aroma of ripe tropical fruit (predominantly banana and a hint of pineapple) and this is followed by a soft smokiness (think of tobacco smoke). These two main notes combine with a number of other aromas to give a wonderfully complex nose - these include tar, wood varnish, nuts (imagine toasted almonds), caramel, toffee, vanilla and some floral heather. The palate is rich but again surprisingly fresh and hot with a pepper/chilli-like heat. The smokiness is more evident here and increases with time, changing from the soft tobacco smoke to become more and more peaty. Again, there is an interesting combination of characteristics present - tar, coal, sweet caramel, vanilla, bittersweet wood spice (think of cinnamon and nutmeg), honey, a hint of antiseptic clove and an overly floral perfumed sweetness (imagine parma violet sweets). The finish is long, dry and complex, with the soft peat and tobacco smoke smouldering on and on. There is more tropical fruit sweetness coming through and plenty of spicy alcoholic heat.

What's the verdict?
This is a multi dimensional whisky. The sweet, ripe tropical fruit notes seem to clash with the more bitter tobacco smoke characteristics through out - it certainly creates an unusual and slightly odd flavour profile that jarred with us a little and they don't seem to sit together correctly. It also has a good vibrancy for something of its age and the high alcohol level helps with this. The addition of water makes the whisky sweeter, with more of the floral and tropical fruit notes coming out. It also softens the smokiness and makes it very tobacco-like (think of sweet chewing tobacco or snuff). A very interesting dram.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Exclusive - win a bottle of Penderyn Welsh whisky!

penderyn madeira finishWe are delighted to announce that we have teamed up with Penderyn, the only Welsh single malt whisky distillery, to offer you the exclusive chance to win one of three 70cl bottles of their Penderyn Madeira Finish whisky on our blog.

To enter, you must complete the quick and easy survey below - please leave your name and email address in the section at the end. We will then draw three names after the closing date (Friday 2 July), email you and then send you your prize of award winning Penderyn Madeira Finish whisky.

The Whisky For Everyone/Penderyn survey is below – thank you for taking part and good luck!

CLICK HERE to begin the survey.

Penderyn distillery (pronounced pen-derrin) is located in the village of Penderyn on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park in south Wales. The distillery is one of the youngest in the UK and is owned by the Welsh Whisky Company, which is made up of a consortium of local businessmen. The WWC was formed in 1998 and production began at Penderyn in September 2000. The current annual production capacity is 700,000 litres and the distillery has a revolutionary still that was designed and built by Dr David Faraday. Penderyn is the first legal distillery to produce single malt whisky in Wales for over 100 years - the previous one was named Frongoch (pronounced fran-gok) and was located in north Wales, close to the famous Snowdonia National Park. Prince Charles is one of Penderyn's biggest fans and supporters and serves the award winning Penderyn whisky at his Highgrove House residence.

To read further information about our recent visit to the Penderyn distillery click here and to read our tasting notes for the range of Penderyn whiskies, including the Madeira Finish on offer, click here.

Terms & conditions
➢ You must be of legal age to drink alcohol in your country of residence to take part in the survey.
➢ Only one entry per email address will be accepted in to the prize draw.
➢ The closing date for the survey is 02/07/10. The three winners will be drawn and notified by email shortly after this date. At this point, each winner will be required to give a postal address for delivery.
➢ The decision is final, once the result is drawn.
➢ Each winner will receive one 70cl bottle of Penderyn Madeira Finish whisky plus fully paid postage, packing and any customs paperwork. Due to postal restrictions - one bottle will be sent within the UK, one within the rest of the EU and one to the USA (excluding Alaska and Hawaii). We welcome entries from readers in other countries but are unable to send prizes to locations other than those specified.
➢ We will ensure that your prize is packed and labelled correctly. For the winners are based outside of the UK, any further duty or customs charges, if required, will be incurred by the winner.
➢ No cash alternative will be offered as a prize.
➢ Personal information filled in during the survey shall be kept and stored for the duration of the prize draw and is for the sole purpose of the prize draw.

Winners - Whisky and chocolate matching

whisky and chocolate matchingLast week we had the pleasure of attending a whisky and chocolate matching evening. The whisky was supplied by Macallan and the chocolate by Artisan du Chocolat. To read our full review of the event - click here. We were also lucky enough to get a goodie bag for three of our readers, and asked for your favourite food and whisky combinations in return. Each goodie bag contains a 5cl of Macallan 12 years old (worth £7) and a 12 piece assortment box from Artisan du Chocolat (worth £9). We thank both parties for supplying these bags and for hosting a great evening.

We have now drawn three names out of the hat (literally!) and the winners are Roddy Graham (AKA rodbod) who writes the wine blog Sentir le Bouchon!, Steve Rush of top whisky blog The Whisky Wire and Hannu Juutilainen from the Finnish whisky blog Smoke on the Water. Well done to you all and we hope that you enjoy the combinations as much as we did. Please email us at whiskyforeveryone@gmail.com with an address that we can send your prize to. Thank you to everyone who took the time to read the post and leave a comment.

Karen & Matt

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Have just tried ... Director's Tactical Selection 'Old Malt Cask' 10 years old

director's tactical selection 'old malt cask' 10 years oldAn independent single cask bottling
Director's Tactical Selection is a single malt whisky released by the independent bottling company Douglas Laing & Co. They are based in Glasgow and the company that was set up by Frederick Douglas Laing in 1948. They are one of the largest independent bottlers in Scotland and is currently run by Frederick's two sons, Stewart and Fred Junior. Distilleries from all areas of Scotland fill whisky directly to Douglas Laing’s own casks and these are matured and then released or blended at the appropriate time. This whisky is part of the Old Malt Cask range, which are all bottlings released at 50% ABV and specially selected from single casks. This limits the numbers of each release and increases the retail price and in this case, there are only 354 bottles available and each should cost £60-70.

So, which distillery is it from?
Director's Tactical is not a distillery name, but one given to it by Douglas Laing & Co. Most distilleries allow the independent bottling companies to use their name, however some do not so an alternative name has to be given. This is the case here. it is not as difficult as you think to guess these distilleries, especially once you look at the label on the bottle. This is named as 'A Skye malt' and there is only only distillery on the isle of Skye, so therefore it must be from it. That distillery is Talisker.

Remote yet popular
Talisker is an iconic Scottish whisky distillery on the isle of Skye. The island lies off the north west Highland coast and forms part of the Hebrides. As mentioned, the distillery is the only one on the island and is located close to the village of Carbost, in the shadow of the imposing Cuillin hills. Despite its remote location, the distillery is one of the most visited in Scotland. Talisker was founded in 1830 by two local brothers, Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill, and has a current annual production capacity of 1.9 million litres. The distillery is currently owned by drinks giant Diageo and its sales are increasing rapidly, mostly thanks to the popular Talisker 10 years old.

To read more history and information about the Talisker distillery then visit the Talisker distillery profile page on our website whiskyforeveryone.com.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this Director's Tactical Selection Old Malt Cask 10 years old (possibly, one of the longest names for a whisky so far!) is pale and golden, almost straw-like. The nose is fresh, vibrant and fragrant with plenty of vanilla, sweet honey, dried grasses and bitter cereal grains (imagine the husks especially). Through these aromas comes some lovely sweet, earthy peat and a touch of salty sea water. This nose makes you want to try the whisky. On the palate, this is again fresh and feels light and thin in the mouth. However, it makes up for this slight disappointment with plenty of vibrant flavours - lots of sweet grain, vanilla and peat (think of damp earth or moss) to begin with and then warm spices (imagine peppercorns or chilli), honey, brine and a hint of bitter iodine. The finish becomes very hot and spicy (the peppercorns and chilli again) with the salty note, honey and sweet peatiness fighting their way through to give decent length. The finish burns away for a long time getting drier and drier with a hit of that bitter iodine to end.

What's the verdict?
This is a good but slightly challenging whisky. Fans of the regular distillery release of Talisker 10 years old may be disappointed as it does not have the richness or peatiness of that. This is fresher, more vibrancy, more spicy heat and is stronger in alcohol. The casking is different and the one used has imparted more subtle characters to the whisky, but this makes it a different drink. The higher ABV calls for the addition of water but this brings out a distinct cereal grassiness and something slightly acidic and unpleasant - we recommend sticking to drink it neat. The price is also double that of the regular 10 years old. It's a lovely refreshing peaty whisky but is it worth the money?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Have just tried ... Wild Turkey 8 years old (101 Proof)

What's with the name?
Wild Turkey is an American whiskey that is produced in the town of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. The distillery is one of seven in the state of Kentucky and produces an extensive range of whiskies. The name is said to be derived from a story regarding a former distillery worker called Thomas McCarthy. He used to go on an annual wild turkey hunt with friends and in 1940, he took some whiskey from the distillery with him. They enjoyed it so much that the following year they asked him to bring some more of "that wild turkey whiskey". McCarthy liked the name and soon after the Wild Turkey brand was introduced.

A long and proud history
However, the name could also come from the fact that the original distillery founded by the Ripy family in 1869, was built on Wild Turkey Hill. The Ripy family quickly gained recognition for the high quality of their bourbon and this culminated in it being selected to represent the state of Kentucky at The World Fair in 1893. As with all American distilleries, the Ripy distillery was forced to close during the Prohibition period between 1920 and 1933. The distillery was modernised and was one of the first to re-open for production when Prohibition was lifted. It was taken over by Austin Nichols, a company that began in 1855 trading tea, coffee and liquor, in the early 1970s and later became part of the massive Pernod Ricard group. This helped to establish Wild Turkey as a strong export brand internationally. Wild Turkey is currently owned by another large drinks corporation, the Campari Group, who took control in 2009.

Locally sourced ingredients
This Wild Turkey eight years old is America's best selling premium aged bourbon. It has an alcoholic strength of 50.5% ABV (101 Proof using the old US system - a name which it can also be found by) and costs around £25-30 a bottle in the UK. The ingredients used to make the whiskey are grains (primarily corn grown in Kentucky, mixed with barley and rye), water which is taken from a limestone well within the distillery and yeast - this is a secret formula and is cultivated at the distillery. The whiskey is aged in new white oak casks, which are heavily charred so as to add additional flavour, for a minimum of eight years.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this Wild Turkey eight years old is golden amber and the nose is packed with expressive characteristics. There is immediate and obvious cereal grain and this is followed by some sweeter aromas such as dried fruits (think of raisins and candied orange peel), vanilla and coconut. The nose feels prickly with alcohol and has distinct notes of burnt sugar and toasted almonds coming through. On the palate, this feels thick in the mouth and again has a complex, yet well balanced mixture of notes present. It is very grainy (especially reminiscent of the more bitter types of grain, like rye) with plenty of wood spice (imagine cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg) and that distinct toasted almond and burnt sugar again. There is also some peppery heat. Sweeter elements begin to balance out these spicier, bitter notes and these include sweet honey, vanilla, coconut and orange. The finish is punchy and long, with a fresh, zingy combination of orange zest, ginger, oak and that pepper-like heat. The finish becomes more woody with time and gets drier and drier, leaving your mouth gasping and wanting more!

What's the verdict?
This is a lovely example of an American bourbon. It has great balance between the sweeter and spicier elements and is easy drinking, despite its high alcohol content. We recommend drinking it without water, as when water is added the spiciness and heat are flattened out and the bitter woody notes take over. The balance seems to be taken away. However, it may be too dry or spicy for some, especially whisky beginners or those new to bourbon, so adding water is an option here. A must try whiskey and one that is a decent price for the high quality.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Whisky and chocolate matching

whisky and chocolate matchingLast week, we were lucky enough to be invited to an event that paired whisky and chocolate tastings together. The event was hosted by The Macallan and Artisan du Chocolat and was held at the west London shop of Artisan du Chocolat in swanky Westbourne Grove. The idea was to present two brands at the top of each field and for the assembled crowd to learn how to compliment the flavours within the whiskies and the chocolates.

Macallan is one of the most famous whisky distilleries and brands in the world. The range of whisky from Macallan is extensive and are some of the best selling around the globe - it is consistently in third place for sales of single malt, behind only Glenfiddich and Glenlivet with particular strong performances in the American, UK and travel retail markets. The Macallan distillery is located close to the village of Craigellachie in the heart of the Speyside region of Scotland and overlooks the River Spey. It was founded in 1824 by Alexander Reid and was originally called Elchies distillery, after an area of land nearby. The name was changed to Macallan in 1892 following a change of ownership.

artisan du chocolat shop, londonArtisan du Chocolat was founded by Irishman Gerard Coleman ten years ago and he now has a growing empire of boutique stores and concessions in the famous Selfridge’s chain around the UK – four in London, two in Manchester and one in Birmingham. Coleman is the master chocolatier of the company and the range of chocolate is produced at his atelier in Ashford, Kent. Artisan du Chocolat are proud to be one of only three companies in the UK to make chocolate from their own sourced cocoa beans and to make their own cocoa butter, which forms the base of all of their creations. The other two are the massive global manufacturers of Cadbury and Mars, therefore making Artisan du Chocolat unique amongst the UK’s smaller chocolate producers.

gerard coleman, artisan du chocolatThe Macallan had selected four whiskies – the 12 years old, 15 years old Fine Oak, Select Oak and Whisky Maker’s Edition – and Gerard and his team had tasted each whisky before selecting which style of chocolate would best suit and compliment the characteristics. Each whisky was presented with two different chocolates and we were encouraged to taste each chocolate before the whisky and then after the whisky – it was amazing how the flavours in both the whisky and chocolate changed depending on which order we tried them in. The whiskies were tasted straight as Gerard (pictured, left) informed us that adding water or ice would lower the temperature of our mouth and inhibit the flavours of the chocolate.

The first pairing was Macallan 15 years old Fine Oak (a whisky that combines ex-bourbon and ex-sherry cask maturation) and Jamaican bean dark chocolate. Tasting the whisky first, it has a combination of vanilla, almond, dried fruits (raisins and sultanas) and toffee. This is followed by the chocolate – it feels earthy with notes of olive, jasmine and nuts – and the noticeable thing is that it brings out extra sweetness and a distinct orange note in the whisky. Then we try them the other way around – chocolate first and then whisky. This makes the whisky seem more spirity and deadens the sweetness while bringing out more of the olive note (reminiscent of black olive tapanade – sounds strange but true!) and some mild woody spice. Next, we try the same whisky with a ginger and lemongrass milk chocolate. Having the whisky first then the chocolate brings the sweet caramel notes out in the whisky, while making the chocolate creamy and milky. When tasting the chocolate first, the whisky really brings out some defined spices (especially the obvious ginger and hints of pepper and nutmeg). Our preference was the combination of whisky first plus the second ginger and lemongrass chocolate after, but it was difficult as both chocolates were excellent!

For the second pairing, we only had one chocolate to try – the spicy Mole Chilli, which has a combination of four types of chilli, cinnamon, almonds, thyme, clove, coriander and all spice with a dark chocolate. The whisky that this was paired with was Macallan 12 years old, which has been matured solely in ex-sherry casks. The whisky smells and tastes rich and sweet with plenty of caramel, dried fruits and wood spice. When tasting the whisky before the chocolate, the spices in both came out well as did a distinct zesty orange note in the whisky. Our preference was when tasting the whisky after the chocolate – this made the whisky sweeter with a pronounced nutty element and the chocolate much spicier and hotter. The chilli is much more obvious, as burns away for ages. A lovely combination.

whisky and chocolate matchingOur next chocolates were to be paired with the Macallan Select Oak – a travel retail exclusive whisky that was first released about a year ago. This whisky is lighter and fresher than the previous two and has a lovely combination of notes including cereals, vanilla, dried grass, sultanas, toffee and ginger. The first chocolate was made with almond milk and when tasted before the whisky, it bought out the cereal grains and grassiness in the whisky very well. When tasted after the whisky, the sweetness in the whisky was really emphasised and the chocolate came to life. The chocolate became rich and creamy, with nutty almond prominent and a distinct vanilla/marzipan note present. The second was a milk chocolate with tonka, a spicy bean from South America. This gave the chocolate a slightly astringent taste and this seemed to help with the lighter style of whisky. Before the whisky, the chocolate was sweeter and creamier. Afterwards, the chocolate became spicier and the whisky sweeter. Both whisky and chocolate combinations were good but our preference was the almond milk chocolate – Karen preferred this before the whisky and Matt preferred it after.

The final whisky was the Macallan Whisky Maker’s Edition, another travel retail exclusive that is bottled at a slightly higher strength of 42.8% ABV (the other three are all 40% ABV). This whisky is a little drier than the other whiskies, especially on the finish where it feel quite rich yet tannic. There is distinct dried fruit and toasted almond notes, along with just a hint of some peat smoke. A lovely dram. The first chocolate was made with tobacco and is the only chocolate on general sale to include tobacco leaf. This gives an extraordinary sensation, as the tobacco is subtle and combines so well with the creamy milk chocolate. It also combines very well with the whisky. When tasted before the whisky, The bitterness of the tobacco leaves comes through, as does a leather note, while the whisky becomes sweeter with more caramel aromas and flavours. When tasting the whisky and then the chocolate, the tobacco loses its intensity. Our final chocolate was made with cardamom. Before the whisky, this chocolate is highly aromatic with plenty of cardamom and honeysuckle on the nose and a lovely warmth and spiciness on the palate. When tasted after the whisky, this intensity was lessened with sweetness coming out more in both the chocolate and whisky. Both chocolates worked well with the whisky and it was hard to decide our preference, although both were better when the chocolate was tasted before the whisky, as this seemed to bring out the best and most intense characteristics.

artisan du chocolat barsOur final treat was that Gerard Coleman and his innovative Artisan du Chocolat team had combined some of these experiences into a set of truffles that had been made especially for the evening. Each had a whisky based centre and was then coated in one of the selected chocolates and dusted with cocoa powder. These were a real treat – one with the Macallan 12 years old and the Jamaican chocolate, one with the 15 years old and almond, jasmine and orange oil chocolate and finally, one with the Select Oak and the almond milk chocolate.

It is evident from this evening that the Macallan and Artisan du Chocolat products both stand up well on their own and are at the top of their respective fields. However, when combined together they seem to bring even more out of each other. It makes us want to experiment with other whisky and food combinations. We thank Macallan and Artisan du Chocolat for a great and eye-opening evening.

Win Macallan and Artisan du Chocolat for yourself!
We are pleased to announce that we have three gift sets from the evening to give away. Each set contains a 5cl sample of Macallan 10 years old and a gift box of selected Artisan du Chocolat chocolates. We thank Annabel Kohler of Macallan and Gerard Coleman of Artisan du Chocolat for supplying these gift sets for our readers.

For the chance to win one of the three gift sets, simply tell us about your favourite whisky and food combinations in the comments section at the bottom of this post. We will then select three comments at random on Wednesday 23 June, so remember to leave your name and some way for us to contact you, should you win! Entrants must be of legal drinking age in your country of residence. Good luck!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Have just tried ... Grant's blended whisky range

grant's blended whisky rangeHere in the final part of the review of our visit to the Girvan and Ailsa Bay distilleries, we review the final products of the whole whisky making process - the Grant's blended whisky range. We were recently invited by William Grant & Sons' global brand ambassador for the Grant's range, Ludo Ducrocq and he showed us around both distilleries, which are located close to the town of Girvan on the west Lowland coast of Scotland. At the end of our tours, Ludo allowed us to sample the complete range of Grant's whiskies including some not available in the UK and one new release. To read our distillery visit notes for Girvan and Ailsa Bay - click here.

The Grant's range is amongst the best selling in the world. The main markets are the UK (where the brand stands in 4th place behind Bell's, Famous Grouse and High Commissioner), France (who are the world leaders in whisky consumption with a staggering 48 million litres each year) and South America (especially Ecuador and Venezuela). Sales in other growing markets such as eastern Europe, Taiwan and the travel retail/Duty Free sector are increasing rapidly. The Grant's brand sits comfortably in the world's top five for the sales of blended whisky and is predicted to shortly take third place for the first time (the other brands in the top five as of 2009 were Johnnie Walker, Ballantine's, J&B and Chivas Regal). Overall, the range sells 20 million bottles of whisky a year! *

Grant's Ale Cask Reserve
This was first released in 2001 and remains the only whisky in full time production to be matured in ex-ale casks. The construction of the blend is around 40% single malt whisky (from between 20-30 distilleries) and 60% grain whisky (from 2-3 distilleries, with the main component being from Girvan). The Ale Cask Reserve is blended in the style of a Lowland single malt. It is bottled at 40% ABV and should cost £15-18 a bottle. The colour is golden with a brownish tint and the nose is cereal grain husks and a honey-like sweetness. On the palate, this bittersweet feel is intensified and some vanilla and oatmeal come through. The finish is particularly grainy with plenty of cereal and a hint of yeast. It seems a slightly unusual whisky but is very drinkable and extremely pleasant.

grant's family reserveGrant's Family Reserve
This whisky is the flagship of the Grant's brand. It is designed to be similar in style to a classic Speyside single malt and contains ex-bourbon and sherry cask matured whiskies and a few casks of peaty whisky. The Family Reserve has a rich golden colour and a nose is full of cereal grains and vanilla. Other elements give a warm, comforting combination of aromas - sweet honey, yeast, citrus (imagine dried orange peel) and whiff of earthy smoke. On the palate, this is light, delicate and mellow with initial sweetness (sweet grains, vanilla, honey and caramel), fruitiness (imagine pears and apples) and nuts (especially almonds). The finish is sweet before turning drier at the end. The nut and grain notes are also noticably present here. Family Reserve offers great value at £12-18 a bottle and is widely available in the UK. To read our full review and tasting notes of the Family Reserve - click here.

Grant's Sherry Cask Reserve
As the name suggests, this whisky contains a large proportion of both single malt and grain whiskies that have been matured in ex-sherry casks. The base of the blend is the same as that of the Family Reserve but it has been married in sherry casks. The result is a heavier, sweeter whisky with more body. The Sherry Cask Reserve should cost under £20, is bottled at 40% ABV and is widely available in the UK. The colour is a golden orange/amber and the nose is rich and packed with honey, sweet dried fruits (think of sultanas and raisins), orange zest and wood spices (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg). On the palate, this feels rich, sweet and coats your mouth. The obvious sweetness is led by the aromas of the nose - honey, dried fruit, orange - with the wood spices and plenty of cereal grains giving balance and a slightly bitter edge. The finish is warm and fruity before the cinnamon and nutmeg come through at the end. Lovely.

grant's 12 years oldGrant's 12 years old
This whisky is not available in the UK and its main markets are France and South America. In France, a bottle will sell for €20-25 and it is released at a strength of 40% ABV. The blend is made up of 50% single malt whisky and 50% grain whisky. The colour is golden yellow with a hint of amber and the nose feels sumptuous and tempting. There is a mix of vanilla, honey, cereals, zesty orange and distinctive earthy peat smoke. On the palate, the whisky is rich and creamy with plenty of honey, vanilla and nuts. These are complimented by zingy orange zest, ginger and nutmeg spices, cereals and soft earthy smoke. The finish is long and less sweet with a lovely drying bitter grainy note coming through.

Grant's 18 years old
Another whisky in the range that is not available in the UK market but is extremely popular in France, where it retails for €35-40. It is bottled at 40% ABV and contains whiskies with a minimum age of 18 years, including some that are over 25 years of age. After blending, this whisky has spent time marrying together before finishing its maturation in large Port casks. The colour is deep amber and the nose is rich, sweet and fruity (especially dried fruits such as raisins, figs and prunes). On the palate, this is again rich and feels thick in the mouth. There is an interesting array of characteristics - dark dried fruits (raisins, figs, prunes again), black treacle, vanilla, caramel and hints of wood spice (think of nutmeg) and cocoa powder. The finish is long and rich but with a refreshing dryness towards the end.

grant's 25 years oldGrant's 25 years old
To try this whisky was a real treat - thanks Ludo! This bottling will be released in July 2010 and will be exclusive to the travel retail/Duty Free market. It is bottled at 40% ABV and will retail at £150 each. This is a special whisky as it contains whisky with a minimum age of 25 years and some much older indeed. This includes a cask of grain whisky that was distilled on the first day of production at Girvan on Christmas Day 1963, some whisky from the closed Ladyburn distillery and other rare whiskies from closed distilleries and over 25 other single malt and grain whiskies. We plan to do a full review of this 25 years old upon its release, but here is a little taster.

The colour is golden amber and the nose is rich with an interesting fruitiness to it (think of peaches and citrus zest). On the palate, there is a mix of sweeter notes (vanilla, honey, fresh peaches, plums and distinct cereal grains) and spicier wood notes (oak, cinnamon, nutmeg and hint of bonfire-like smoke). It is initially rich and creamy with a refreshing spicy heat (think of ginger and chilli) before mellowing and turning softer. The finish is very long and starts woody and spicy, becoming sweeter and softer before almost going full circle and becoming drier with a touch of spice to finish off. A lovely and complex dram that deserves your attention.

What's the verdict?
The Grant's blended whisky range is consistently good across the six whiskies. It really does have something for everyone and for all tastes, except maybe the fans of very peaty whisky. Tasting them side by side illustrated this perfectly and was a real treat. This includes the lighter Ale Cask, the balance of the Family Reserve, the richer and sweeter Sherry Cask and 12 years old, the even richer and darker 18 years old and the highly complex 25 years old - the jewel in the Grant's crown.

* Please note that all figures in this paragraph are from Euromonitor International 2009 via The Malt Whisky Yearbook 2010. All photographs are used with permission of Ludo Ducrocq and William Grant & Sons.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Have just tried ... Bladnoch 8 years old

bladnoch 8 years oldA Lowland distillery
Bladnoch (pronounced blad-nock) is the most southerly distillery that is currently operating in Scotland. It is located in a remote spot, close to the village of Wigtown, between the towns of Dumfries and Stranraer and is actually further south than parts of northern England, including the city of Newcastle. Bladnoch takes its name from the nearby River Bladnoch, which supplies the water for the whisky production, and was founded in 1817 by two brothers - Thomas and John McClelland. The distillery has had a chequered history and has been closed and re-opened on a number of occasions. There have been various financial reasons for this but most closures have ultimately been attributed to Bladnoch's location.

A new range of whisky
The most recent closure was in the mid 1990s. The previous owners (United Distillers, who later became part of Diageo) closed Bladnoch in 1993 and the distillery was later purchased by Northern Irishman Raymond Armstrong in 1994. His aim was to help the flagging Lowland whisky industry that at the time only had two distilleries left - Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie - having previous had over 30. However, following various legal battles with Diageo, Armstrong was not allowed to begin production until 2000 and even then the production capacity was capped at 100,000 litres per year (full capacity is around 250,000 litres per year). Initially, old stock from the previous owners was bottled and released, before in 2008 the first single malt produced during Armstrong's tenure was released. The current range is expanding and includes this eight years old, a lightly peated version and some special editions.

Our tasting notes
This eight years old is bottled at 46% ABV and should cost around £30-35 a bottle. It is available from specialist alcohol retailers or www.bladnoch.co.uk. The colour is a pale yellow, almost straw-like, and the nose is very pleasant, clean and light. There is immediate cereal grain notes and these lead the nose, before allowing other aromas to come through - included in this is plenty of oak, vanilla, a distinct grassy note (think of straw or hay), a hint of citrus zestiness (imagine lemons) and a whiff of alcoholic spirit. With time, the nose sweetens and introduces some honey and increased vanilla notes. The palate has a similar feel, with a good balance and intensity that really gets your saliva going. It is again led by a heavy cereal grain influence with a plenty of vanilla and oak. The distinct grassiness of the nose is slightly more understated and the sweet honey and juicy, acidic citrus zest again coming through with time. Also, some almonds and hazelnut notes are present and these give the palate a creamier and slightly heavier, oilier feel than expected from the lighter, fresher nose. The finish has a decent length, beginning sweetly with honey and vanilla before becoming drier with plenty of woody oak, acidic citrus zest and dried grasses. It feels bittersweet by the time it fades.

What's the verdict?
This is a decent dram that has a lot of character for a whisky in the lighter style. It would be a great Summer drink or as an aperitif whisky on a warm day. This Bladnoch eight years old may be a little light for some or a bit too grainy and grassy for a beginner but is clearly well balanced, well made and well matured. If you haven't tried Bladnoch whisky before then this one is a good introduction to the distillery and well worth a try.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Distillery visit - Girvan

girvan distilleryThe Girvan distillery is one of largest facilities making whisky in Scotland, yet remains one of the country's best kept secrets. The distillery is located on the outskirts of the coastal town of Girvan, which is about an hour's drive south of Glasgow, and sits on the picturesque Ailsa Bay overlooking the isles of Arran and Ailsa Craig. The Girvan distillery is owned by William Grant & Sons, who also own the Speyside single malt distilleries of Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie. Girvan produces single grain whisky that is used as the heart of the Grant's popular range of blended whiskies and forms part of a massive 380 acre site that includes the Ailsa Bay single malt distillery, the Hendrick's gin distillery, William Grant & Sons offices, a cooperage and over 40 warehouses! Amazing statistics, so how is it that this place is so unknown among whisky drinkers?

The distillery is named after the neighbouring town of Girvan and was founded in 1963. It was the idea of Charles Grant, one of the descendants of the original William Grant, and Girvan was constructed to produce the grain whisky which forms an important part of the Grant's range of blended whiskies. The brand was growing and their older distilleries couldn't cope, so the need was there to produce significant volumes in order to meet demand. Charles' idea was to have the first spirit running from the stills on Christmas Day, in a recreation of what had happened at his fore fathers first distillery at Glenfiddich in 1886. Construction work was swift and the site was completed in just nine months. More recently, the Ailsa Bay single malt distillery was added on the site and its construction programme mirrored that of Girvan and was completed in nine months.

ludo ducrocqOur tour of the Girvan distillery was taken by Ludo Ducrocq - the global brand ambassador of the Grant's blended whisky range. Girvan is not open to the public and little general knowledge is known about it. So when Ludo invited us for a tour, we had to accept especially as we had never been to a grain distillery or a distillery with a continuous still before. It turned out that we were one of the first whisky blogs to be shown around the distillery - we thank Ludo for the opportunity and the detailed information given and for taking time out of his busy schedule to conduct our visit. This was to be a distillery visit with a difference ...

We began our tour of the facility by visiting the new Ailsa Bay distillery, which produces around six million litres of single malt whisky which is destined for use in the Grant's blends. To read our review of Ailsa Bay - click here.

Following this, we turn our attention to Girvan and the world of the grain distillery and continuous distillation. This is an alien concept to us and Girvan is unlike any other distillery that we have seen to date. We begin by standing next to the huge milling tower (this can be seen on the image at the beginning of the post - it is the tall white building standing centre right). Ludo explains that we cannot see inside as there are large amounts of grain dust and this is highly volatile and combustible. However, he does explain the milling process and this differs significantly from that of single malt production.

Grain whisky at Girvan is produced using a mix of 90% wheat and 10% malted barley. The wheat has naturally high levels of sugars and therefore does not need to go through the malting/germination process. This saves approximately one week of time and this fact, coupled with the lower initial price of wheat compared to barley, helps to keep the production costs and therefore the final costs of grain whisky down. The barley used in the process has to go through the malting process and this is used because the enzymes in the malted barley help to break down the sugars in the wheat more easily.

The wheat and malted barley are ground down separately in the mill to the require size - this is done to increase the surface area of the grains and therefore make it easier to extract the soluble sugars. The process is called wet milling, as water is added during the grinding to produce a watery paste or slurry. The wheat and barley remain separated and are treated in different ways. The barley remains as a paste and allowed to cool while the wheat is cooked - this converts more starch to sugar. This process is completed in one of the three large cooking vessels at Girvan and the milled wheat is added to preheated water and cooked under pressure for approximately one hour. Basically, Girvan has three of the biggest pressure cookers you will ever see!

Following this, the two parts are mixed in huge conversion tanks - the cooled malted barley grist is on the bottom and the warm cooked wheat is then poured over, with the temperature then increased to get the enzymes working to draw out the maximum amount of sugar from the grains. Once completed, the whole solution including all the husks and other debris are pushed through to a series of fermentation tanks, which are housed outside. Here the yeast is added and the fermentation begins, turning those soluble sugars in to alcohol. They use yeast which they cultivate themselves at Girvan. There is only one word that describes each of the fermentation tanks - MASSIVE. Each one holds liquid at different stages of the fermentation process (this gives constant fuel to the stills) and has a capacity of half a million litres. There is at least 20 such tanks and the sight and sheer scale of them is awe inspiring!

column stills at girvanThe next stop takes us to the stills. These are unlike anything we have seen and are column stills that operate continuously, 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Between them they produce a staggering 75 million litres of grain whisky a year, making it one of Scotland's largest distilleries. These are again housed externally (see image, left) and tower above the rest of the complex. This type of still (also sometimes called a Coffey still) is used by all of the major drinks companies to mass produce the spirit of their choice, be it whisky, vodka, rum etc. At this point, Ludo tries to explain the process of column still continuous distillation to me and my brain starts to hurt! So here goes with the basic principals ...

diagram of a column stillGirvan has six column stills and they work in pairs - this is where the similarity to single malt copper pot still production ends. Each pair is made from stainless steel but contain copper plates at the top and these remove impurities from the spirit. Each column still performs a different function - the first (on the left of the adjoining diagram) is where the alcoholic fermented wash liquid is heated and the spirit fumes are then passed to the second still for condensing. The first still contains a series of plates containing mesh trays and these sift out the wheat and malted barley husks and dead yeast, while also making the resulting alcohol vapours work harder to get to the second condensing still. The stills are huge and tower above everything. All of the stills are operated under vacuum (Girvan is the only place in Scotland where this takes place) and this allows the spirit to be distilled at lower temperatures. This makes them more energy efficient and less messy to operate. These six stills are operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week and produce 75 million litres of spirit per year.

Girvan is one of the most energy efficient distilleries in Scotland and produces most of its own power through energy recovery. The stills are actually quite simple structures, but most of the piping that you can see in the image of the still above is for the purpose of this energy recovery. For example, the left over materials from the column still - this includes wheat husks, dead yeast particles and other debris - are collected and fed to bacteria. These bacteria then produce vast amounts of methane gas that is collected in a series of balloon-like structures. The methane gas is then burnt and this produces all of the electricity that is used on the whole distillery site. Girvan produces so much of this electricity that some is even sold to the National Grid, who supply the UK's electricity to homes and businesses.

girvan cooperageOur tour moves to the cooperage which is adjacent to the large column stills. The cooperage is where the casks for maturation are constructed and Girvan has seven full time coopers and numerous other part time staff who carry out various associated jobs. A cooperage is a rare sight at a distillery, as most casks are constructed by external companies, so the chance to see one in action was a real treat.

coopers working at girvanWe enter the workshop area and Ludo explains that the casks arrive at the cooperage, are checked and any faulty staves (the long strips of wood that make up a cask) or signs of leakage are replaced and repaired. Girvan uses casks that have been previously used in both the sherry and bourbon industries. A cask is held together by natural tension and a series of metal hoops - there is no glue, nails or sealant. The cask heads are sealed using dried, toughened thin reeds which are hammered in to the narrow space between the head and the top of the staves (see image, above). They also strip and char the insides of the casks in a kiln-like structure and this promotes interaction between the cask and the spirit which is eventually filled inside, giving the required flavours.

casks at girvanFinally, Ludo shows us a couple of the warehouses, where the casks and whisky spend their lives maturing. There are currently over 40 warehouses on the site, with more being built and planned, and they hold 1.3 million casks! Firstly, we go to a warehouse which is packed from floor to ceiling with marrying tuns - these are large barrels that are used to 'marry' the different whiskies together once the blending has taken place. It is an impressive sight and yet again demonstrates the vastness of the whole distillery complex.

Next, we move to another warehouse that contains endless rows of maturing whisky casks, mostly from Girvan and the other Grant's distilleries but also some from other distilleries whose whisky is used in Grant's blends. This place is like a whisky library and contains some very desirable casks, each of which will lend something to the final blend. For the final part, Ludo drives me to the back of the complex, passed a huge amount of empty casks produced by the cooperage, to show me some further warehouses. These overlook the lovely bay and are painted green in order to blend in with the surroundings. In the distance, there we new warehouses being constructed.

Wow - this is a long post! But it was so worth the visit and there was so much to write about. To get the opportunity to see the continuous column stills and the cooperage, learning about single grain distillation and the awesome scale of the whole Girvan distillery - these things, in addition to Ludo's knowledge and enthusiasm, will be the lasting memories of a great day. If you have any questions about the Girvan and Ailsa Bay distilleries or the Grant's whisky range, then contact Ludo on his Grant's Whisky Blog.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Have just tried ... Dalmore 12 years old

Indian owners
The Dalmore distillery is located in the town of Alness in the northern Highlands of Scotland. It was founded in 1839 by Alexander Matheson and has been owned by the current owners, Whyte & Mackay, since the 1960s. Whyte & Mackay are now part of a larger Indian owned company called United Spirits, who also own the Jura, Fettercairn and Tamnavulin distilleries in Scotland. The capacity of Dalmore in 4.2 million litres per year, although recently the average has been approximately three million per year as they consistently have water shortage problems during the warmer summer months.

A classic sherried whisky
The whisky produced at Dalmore is shared between the single malt market, as well as contributing to the popular Whyte & Mackay blended range of whiskies. Dalmore single malt sales have increased rapidly in the last five years since they have re-branded and expanded their range. The core range currently includes this 12 years old, a 15, 18 and 40 years old. In addition to this, Dalmore also release a number of limited editions such as the recent MacKenzie and Sirius. The distillery is well renowned for their use of sherry casks during the maturation process and the whiskies pick up prizes and awards around the globe.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this 12 years old is dark golden amber with a chocolate brown tint. The nose is rich, fragrant and promising with plenty of classic sherry cask maturation characteristics - dark dried fruits (imagine raisins, sultanas and cherries), caramel (almost treacle), wood spices (think of cinnamon and nutmeg). In addition, there are also some distinct orange (this is zesty and reminiscent of marmalade), coffee and cocoa aromas. On the palate, this feels creamy and thick with an initial mix of zingy citrus zest (that orange again) and sweet honey and caramel. This gives way to plenty of dried fruits (especially the raisins) and the coffee/cocoa note (think of those creamy hard boiled coffee sweets). The high level of sweetness is balanced a little by the evidence of some wood spice (cinnamon and nutmeg) and a drying oakiness. The overall combination of elements on the nose and palate is very reminiscent of a spiced fruit cake. The finish is disappointingly short, with some raw spirit taking over the initial pleasant sweetness and fruitiness.

What's the verdict?
Dalmore 12 years old is a pleasant whisky and a good example of a sherry cask matured whisky in the 10-15 years category. It has plenty of sweetness, spiciness and fruitiness on the nose and palate but the finish seems to let it down slightly (otherwise, it would have the potential to be a great dram). This would be a good whisky to introduce a beginner to the concept and flavours of sherry cask maturation and also for those with a bit of a sweet tooth. A decent after dinner whisky that would also lend itself to sharing with a cigar. A bottle should cost around £30.

The Whisky Round Table

Today sees the launch of a new feature in the whisky blogosphere - The Whisky Round Table. It is the idea of Jason Johnstone-Yellin, who writes the excellent Guid Scotch Drink whisky blog, and he has gathered together 11 other whisky bloggers from different locations around the world to take part. We are delighted to have been asked by Jason to form part of the Round Table and look forward to contributing to it in the future.

The idea is that the Whisky Round Table convenes once a month and the chair person sets a topical whisky related question that they have always wanted to ask. The chair person will change each month and rotate between the 12 Round Table members. Once the question is asked, each member will present an answer and this will be posted on the hosts blog when collated. The reader will then see 12 differing opinions and interpretations of the same question and this will hopefully introduce new ideas and approaches that may not have been thought of previously.

So please join us at the Whisky Round Table - click here to read the first installment. The subject this month is 'What rules do you have in your whisky lives? ....'

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Distillery visit - Ailsa Bay

Ailsa Bay (pronounced ale-sa bay) is one of Scotland's newest single malt whisky distilleries. It is located on the outskirts of the town of Girvan, which lies on the west coast of the Lowland region, and production started in 2007. The distillery was constructed and is operated by William Grant & Sons, who also own the Glenfiddich and Balvenie single malt distilleries. Ailsa Bay is found on the site of Grant's massive Girvan grain distillery and the total complex covers 380 acres. The majority of the single malt spirit produced at Ailsa Bay is to be used in the Grant's range of blended whiskies, which are among the best selling in the world.

The name of the distillery is taken from the nearby Ailsa Bay, upon which the town of Girvan sits. The setting of the distillery is spectacular, especially on the day of our visit when we had clear blue skies. The rolling hills rise steeply behind the distillery and it looks out over the bay to the isles of Arran and Ailsa Craig - the tiny yet fascinating dome shaped island that is made of some of the hardest granite on the planet (they use this form of granite to make the stones used in the winter sport of curling). We could even see the northern coast of Northern Ireland away in the distance.

ludo ducrocqOur visit of Ailsa Bay was taken by Ludo Ducrocq (pictured, left) who is the global ambassador for the Grant's range of blended whiskies. The distillery is not open to the public and little information seems to have been written about it since its launch in 2007. We discovered from Ludo that we were the first whisky bloggers to be formally shown around the facility, so suddenly felt very privileged and slightly under pressure! We thank Ludo for the opportunity to look around, his time and the information supplied to us during the visit.

The tour begins with a brisk walk from the Grant's offices to the Ailsa Bay site. The distillery is housed in a former outbuilding and as we enter there is a time line of the construction to greet us. The construction of the distillery took place in record time and just nine months after work began in January 2007, the first spirit was flowing. Ludo explained that Ailsa Bay was built to produce single malt whisky in order to help meet the increasing demand for the Grant's range of blended whiskies. As a consequence, this will also free up more Glenfiddich and Balvenie whisky for the expanding single malt market. It was also built to be one of the most eco-friendly distilleries in Scotland, with much of its energy recycled and used through the system again.

We move upstairs to the production area and first go through an operation area, where distillery workers and stillmen monitor the progress of each stage of the distilling process by computer. Next is the stainless steel mash tun, which is the vessel where the soluble sugars from the malted barley are dissolved in warm water. This is massive and allows you to see in via narrow windows in the side and a port hole-like door at the top. Through this top door, we saw the steaming mash being stirred and mixed by huge blades and the side windows showed the grains swirling around in the thick sugary liquid.

fermentation tanks at ailsa bay distilleryDirectly opposite the mash tun are a series of large stainless steel fermentation tanks (pictured, left), where yeast is added and turns the sugar in the mash liquid to alcohol. The final liquid is called wash and each tank is at a different stage of the fermentation process in order to provide a constant source of this alcoholic wash for the stills. The fermentation lasts for approximately 50 hours and when finished, the wash has an alcoholic strength of roughly 8% ABV, similar to that of a strong ale. The sight and scale of the operation is impressive, especially when standing on the viewing platform and looking down as in the photo.

the still rrom at ailsa bayThe still room at Ailsa Bay is also an impressive site. It houses eight copper stills (four wash stills and four spirit stills) and these are producing six million litres of single malt whisky each year, making it one of Scotland's largest. The stills are replicas of those found at Balvenie in Speyside, another of Grant's distilleries. They did this in order to produce the fruity single malt of decent body that they require for the Grant's blends. Each still has a condenser attached to the lyne arm and this turns the spirit vapours back to a liquid in a quick and efficient way. All the condensers are again made from copper, as this cleanses and pulls impurities from the spirit - there is one exception, which is a condenser made from a metal alloy as Grant's experiment with how this will effect the flavour of the spirit produced. Another striking and unique feature of the still room is the octagonal spirit safe (the vessel that collects the spirits) and this is positioned in the centre of the eight stills, as pictured above.

As mentioned, the single malt spirit produced at Ailsa Bay is destined for the Grant's range of blended whiskies. There are no official bottlings of Ailsa Bay whisky on the market as yet, as the distillery has been producing and maturing spirit for less than the legal three years. It will be interesting to see if there are any releases in the pipeline, but from what Ludo said then don't hold your breath! Ailsa Bay is currently producing three styles of whisky - a light, fresh one, a heavier, richer one and a small amount of a peaty one.

girvan cooperageThe final part of our tour takes us to the cooperage which is located on the same site as the Ailsa Bay and Girvan distilleries. The cooperage is where the casks for maturation are constructed and Girvan has seven full time coopers and numerous other part time staff who carry out various associated jobs. A cooperage is a rare sight at a distillery, as most casks are constructed by external companies, so the chance to see one in action was a real treat.

girvan cooperage - cooper's toolsWe enter the workshop area and have to put on our safety glasses and earplugs (in addition to our high visibility vests, this makes us look particularly trendy!). Ludo explained that the casks arrive at the cooperage, are checked and any faulty staves (the long strips of wood that make up a cask) or signs of leakage are replaced and repaired. Girvan uses casks that have been previously used in both the sherry and bourbon industries. A cask is held together by natural tension and a series of metal hoops - there is no glue, nails or sealant. The cask heads are sealed using dried, toughened thin reeds which are hammered in to the narrow space between the head and the top of the staves. They also strip and char the insides of the casks in a kiln-like structure and this promotes interaction between the cask and the spirit which is eventually filled in side, giving the required flavours.

The visit to Ailsa Bay distillery was fascinating. Firstly, because little is known about it outside of William Grant & Sons' organisation - we thank Ludo again for his invite, his time and also for giving us an insight in to what is going on at the core of such a large company and what makes it tick. Secondly, Ailsa Bay has many points of interest that are not commonly seen on a regular distillery tour - its contemporary construction, its unique still room and the fact that they have a cooperage on the same site. We moved on to visit the neighbouring Girvan distillery, which is one of Scotland's largest grain whisky distilleries - the review of that visit will appear shortly ...

If you wish to ask Ludo any questions about the Ailsa Bay or Girvan distilleries or the Grant's whisky range, then he can be contacted through his Grant's Whisky Blog.